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NFHS Field Hockey Rule Changes for 2021

Rules • February 8, 2021

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA (February 8, 2021) —
 Guidance for the use of face masks and the allowance of religious headwear to be worn during play without state association consent are among the most significant rules changes that will take effect with the 2021 high school field hockey season.

During its virtual meeting held January 11-13, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Field Hockey Rules Committee included these subjects in its list of eight proposed rules changes that were reviewed and later approved by the NFHS Board of Directors.

“Given that many schools played a modified or shortened season with the 2020 rules and some have not yet played or may not play, the committee thought it wise to limit changes to the 2021 rules,” said Anna Saccoccio, chair of the NFHS Field Hockey Rules Committee. “Safety of players is always a main concern, and the 2021 rules will clarify any confusion and concerns around the use of face masks during play.”

Face masks were addressed as an addition to Rule 1-6-5, which now permits field players to wear face masks throughout the game provided they are smooth, rounded, preferably transparent or single-colored and fit flush with the face. Players may not affix masks to hard, unyielding headgear – even if padded – and are prohibited from using them to endanger opposing players.

“With the NFHS Board of Directors making changes to the rules book pertaining to goggles in June of 2020, it was important for the Field Hockey Rules Committee to offer guidance for the state associations on the wearing of face masks,” said Julie Cochran, NFHS director of sports and liaison to the Field Hockey Rules Committee. “The committee’s continued focus has been to make sure the rules book is organized effectively for high school officials.”

To promote the participation of student-athletes from all religious backgrounds, Rule 1-5-4 was amended to include religious headwear that is secured to the body and made of non-abrasive, soft materials as acceptable player uniform attire. As a result of this change, which was first recommended by the NFHS Board of Directors, players are no longer required to seek permission from their state associations to wear religious head coverings and have a better ability to exercise their freedom of religion without increased injury risk to themselves or others.

Schools may now display their team names and/or logos on the 18-inch goal boards at the base of the field hockey net, with the caveat the boards must remain predominantly dark-colored. Goal board decals are an optional customization element for schools and are strictly limited to team name and logo; advertisements are not permitted.

Substitution procedures were edited to assist officials in managing field entries. Previously, players could join the game from the designated substitution area or the equivalent space on the opposite side of the field. Rule 1-4-5 now states that participants may only be substituted at the designated area, and the corresponding access point across the field has been eliminated.

The 2021 Field Hockey Rules Book will also feature three new definitions that will provide necessary clarification of key terms. Two new articles in Rule 3-3 (Rule 3-3-10 and 3-3-11) define an “aerial ball” as “an intentional pass in the air above players, using a flick or scoop” and a “sweep” as “a legal stroke which involves a swinging movement of the stick, maintained horizontal and close to the ground, towards the ball.” The official definition of a “dangerous ball” is outlined in Rule 3-4-4 as “a ball that causes legitimate evasive action by a player.”

Finally, minor changes were made to remove redundant language from Rules 8-1-1 and 8-1-1c, which deal with fouls and penalties.

A complete listing of the field hockey rules changes will be available on the NFHS website at Click on “Activities & Sports” at the top of the home page and select “Field Hockey.”  

Sixteen NFHS member state associations conduct state championships in girls field hockey, a sport that includes 60,824 participants in 1,768 schools nationwide according to the most recent NFHS High School Athletics Participation Survey.